Artists Block and the Thirty Day Challenge

FINDING INSPIRATION

artists block 
 
Have you ever sat down with a sketch pad or canvas and thought, ok this looks a bit blank, what on earth should I create?
 
This happened to me a few weeks ago, I just couldn't think what I was going to create at all. I had been working for what seemed like forever on my Ark of Hope artworks (available here), and when they were completed I really had a problem trying to think where to go next. Ark of Hope had taken me six months off and on in total, during which time I hadn't really had to think too much about what I was going to do next. Usually I have a whole list of topics lined up and as soon as I finish one piece I move on to the next idea on the list immediately. Except my list had stopped inspiring me, there was nothing I felt as if I really wanted to create. The list was useless to me because I was out of sorts.
 
For the most part I can be found working on multiple pieces at the same time switching between each as the mood takes me, with Ark of Hope I only worked on one or two other pieces, and one of those was a commission for a book cover which just had to meet the publisher’s deadline. But this time my focus was purely on the Ark works, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find my mojo for anything else.
 
I took a look on the usual sites which often provide me with glimmers of inspiration, I even watched a few Bob Ross videos on YouTube. Is this how it ends I thought, is my artistic career over already? I even had some spare time on my hands, everyone was out for the day, and I was completely alone aside from the cat, the two fish, and the hamster upstairs who was hiding from the cat. This was quality me time, and I couldn't think what to do. I had hit the artistic wall, and every other wall, I didn’t seem to be able to imagine anything I wanted to create. My mind was a complete blank, I definitely had a case of artist block. The last time I experienced this I gave up painting or doing anything much in the way of being creative for around three-years.
 
Do I take some time to rest, do I fire up the PlayStation and immerse myself in some Virtual Reality, do I do some housework, or do I read a book? I actually lost the ability to even think what I should do with myself beyond my art, let alone the ability to think about what I should paint. I picked up a stylus and opened my usual app, I doodled for five minutes and I started to annoy myself because I wasn't actually producing anything other than a mess. Is this what happened to Jackson Pollock I thought?
 
During this period I felt agitated to a degree. I was certainly annoyed with myself and had it have not been minus five degrees outside I would have gone for a walk across Cannock Chase. I couldn’t feel my toes when I went outside to put the trash bin out so I wasn’t going to risk the sometimes hostile environment of Cannock Chase in this weather. Contrary to popular belief and any preconceived ideas you might have about me, I am not Bear Grylls. I like comfortable slippers and hot chocolate, oh, and a log fire. 
 
Usually I can pinpoint the exact cause of any creative block I have previously encountered, whether it be lack of time, any personal issues such as my Crohn’s disease flaring, attempting to work in a way that isn’t quite compatible with my usual creative process, an emotional barrier if I were to tackle a piece of work I’m not comfortable with, or just looking at the world in a familiar way and fail to see other options, or being overwhelmed with the amount of work I have lined up. But this time I couldn’t attribute the artistic block to any of the above.

art from the heart 
 
There is something I have discovered over the years that make artists better, one is to keep having ideas, and the second thing is to have the energy to put those ideas on canvas. Without those two things an artist can’t create. I had neither of these on this particular Saturday and even Bob Ross couldn’t help me with this one.
 
One thing I knew was that if I started to paint something at this exact moment in time there would be no passion, and that would be visible in any work I produced and unless you wanted a reproduction Pollock, there would be no way it would sell.
 
Then a good friend and fellow artist posted an update on Facebook asking what inspires artists. How did he know, we hadn’t spoken, were we all going through this puzzle at the very same time?
 
I lost a good few hours that morning just pondering which made things worse. The more I pondered the less I could think, and whenever I get to the point of being unable to think I default to the position of industrial cleaner. I donned a pair of latex free gloves, armed myself with a bottle of bleach and tackled the bathroom. It was like I was cleaning a crime scene. No idea at all why I do this but whenever I do, I slowly start rethinking again. The throne was shining, the taps were glistening, and the windows were once again crystal-like, although nobody really noticed when they got home. A solid four hours passed by and then I started to think maybe I need some new artwork in the bathroom.
 
I looked at my list of potential art subjects again, then it kind of clicked. Some of the subjects I had written down filled me with a dread of not being able to actually do them. How do I create a work in the style of Matisse and faithfully convey his style of fauvism. Also on the list I had written down an idea I had around a year ago and that was to create some modern cubism works and honestly, cubism isn't actually all that easy to get right. 
 
Fauvism was a short lived art movement lasting only a handful of years 1904-1908, although some say it concluded around 1910, and which followed the Post-Impressionist movement. A simplified drawing with vibrant colours which are unnatural and mostly unblended. It sounds easy enough, so why should I have a feeling of trepidation prior to starting the work? Because I have tried before and it is difficult to recreate those unnatural tones and colour combinations and still give an accurate replication of the style.
 
This got me thinking about how to re-inspire myself and one of the first thoughts I had was that not every piece of work has to go on display or be sold. Sometimes you need to paint for yourself, test out new styles and techniques, and even if you don’t like the subject matter there is always something new you can learn. That was it, I needed to take some time away from production and work on new techniques, and suddenly I became a much more inspired.
 
So switching myself off and doing something as mundane as cleaning the bathroom had totally reinvigorated me. I would suggest that the bathroom isn’t the ideal place to choose as the intended cleaning target but it seems to work for me.
 
I think two things were preventing me from being my usual creative self. One was a fear of trying out something I knew would be difficult, and secondly I honestly think that I was putting myself under pressure to create something worthy of uploading to a print on demand site when I just needed a little me time with paint and no external commitment to do anything other than learn something new.
 
Whenever you get artists block, writers block, or any other kind of creative block it takes time to reset yourself. You can’t go and see a doctor and expect him or her to prescribe some cream or a magic pill, the treatment plan is merely that you need time and a little inspiration, and you need to constantly refill the medicine jar with both of these.
 
There are lots of things which you can do to become even more inspired and they are not always obvious. One of my things is going to visit antique shops. Usually full of interesting pieces steeped in history, and they’re usually excellent pieces of subject matter. The old Kodak camera, the Ming Dynasty vase, the statue of the couple dancing, the light fittings from the old cinema, all perfectly valid things that you might want to paint. A vase on the table in the corner of the dance hall with a young couple dancing under the glow of the chandelier and maybe they are being photographed. You can put non-obvious things together and form a picture. Some of those pictures you imagine, you probably won’t like, but at some point you will visualise something that is inspiring. Create a collage of randomness and you will be surprised at what you can achieve. 
 
There are also the obvious things you can do like walking around the neighbourhood or in the woods, and there is another obvious thing you can do and that’s just to not do anything at all. Creativity usually comes in a moment, start overthinking and that moment takes longer to appear. Inspiration is something that you need to cultivate and just as with a seed, sometimes it needs more time to grow, or more sunlight, or just something not immediately to hand.
 
Too often we use the same solutions for creating works that we have been comfortable using in the past. Whilst this strengthens your creative muscle in one way, it does absolutely nothing to expand on your style. Stretch that creative muscle by learning something new.
 
If you are scared to take on a challenge, don’t be. There are times when I just don’t want to answer an email or do something because I feel uncomfortable, but the sense of achievement you will get by just tackling something head on should never be underestimated.
 
But whatever you do to get yourself back in the zone there is one thing that will destroy any mojo you have in less than a second, and that is try not to be so destructive when you criticise your own work. Artists are the harshest of self-critics, and whilst a little frustration might be a good thing, constantly criticising yourself to the point where it becomes unhealthy is one sure fire way to never get your mojo back.

leave the phone at home to get inspired 
 
Look at what you create objectively and consider what you need to do to improve. If it frustrates you or angers you in any way, walk away and come back later. Go clean the bathroom, go for a walk, do anything you can to remove that negativity at the time.
 
Make sure you sometimes fail too. Failure is something that we can also learn from, and as long as you don’t give up, by learning where you have failed makes it easier to select the right path moving forward. If it didn’t work out, move on, do something different, or do the same thing in a different way.
 
Most importantly don’t rush your art just to feed a market. I have seen people do this too often in all sorts of businesses not just art. Take time and don’t be tempted just to sell a picture, sell some passion with it too because it makes it so much more valuable.
 
Keep going, don’t give up, raise the bar each time, and whilst I never intended to make this into just another inspirational post, I am not some inspirational guru, I have just lost my mojo more than a few times too.

OTHER WAYS TO BECOME INSPIRED 

There are a few other ideas too which will hopefully inspire you. Artists block can be sudden, but so too can inspiration. 

When you go for that walk make sure that you remember to take in your surroundings and if you must take your phone with you, turn it off and make a pact with yourself to only use it in an emergency. Emergencies which don't count include stopping to capture Pokemon or a selfie. You might want to take a photograph of something, but other than that, keep it in your pocket or bag. 

Take in your surroundings and think about light, colour, smell, what the weather is like, and you will find what you are searching for. 

Create a journal of inspiration. Now this is actually one of the most useful things you can do as an artist. Fill he journal with sketches, doodles, photographs and even poems. Snip out pictures from magazines and form collages. Put things together that shouldn't go together. 

Grab a pad of Post-It notes and a biro because those two things alone will make you want to doodle. I managed to get into the habit of creating one doodle per day as a minimum on Post-It notes, sometimes I do even more, but once I start doodling without even having to think, my inner being seems to take over and I become inspired to create that doodle on something bigger. 

30 Day artists Challenge  

TAKE THE 30-DAY ARTIST CHALLENGE

I often set myself little challenges because they are a great way of practicing new techniques and they also give you some inspiration along the way. So here's a 30-day challenge just for you!

Day 1: Self Portrait - Not many people will like doing this and this is exactly why you should do it. 

Day 2: Draw a plant - best work on those textures

Day 3: Draw or paint a harbour scene with at least two boats to remind you of summer

Day 4: Pets - Draw or paint your favourite pet or animal

Day 5: Words - Write down your favourite word and then jazz it up with decorative features 

Day 6: Lines - Grab a ruler and draw something completely with lines making sure you utilise perspective 

Day 7: Relax with a doodle or two - just let the ink flow and the mind wander

Day 8: Your favourite place - Is it a beach, your home town, or somewhere else entirely?

Day 9: Single Colour only - whatever you do, make sure it is done only in shades of a single colour

Day 10: Your favourite food

Day 11: Your best friend

Day 12: A made up movie poster

Day 13: Circles is the theme for today

Day 14: Anything you like because you are nearly halfway through and should be inspired!

Day 15: You are halfway through so draw or paint a set of weighing scales

Day 16: Cubism - because now we are stepping it up!

Day 17: Your favourite actor or actress

Day 18: Recreate a piece originally produced by one of the great Masters

Day 19: Recreate Van Gogh's Starry Night but put in a modern twist

Day 20: A retro advertising sign for anything you want. Try recreating a modern brand as if it were being advertised in the 1950's or a retro travel poster

Day 21: Light and Dark 

Day 22: A random collage of things you have created since day one

Day 23: Test out some typography and create an inspirational poster

Day 24: A scene from your favourite TV show

Day 25: A fantasy map - your chance to be a city planner!

Day 26: Something you don't like drawing usually

Day 27: A cartoon character 

Day 28: Your ideal home

Day 29: A painting you will hang on your own wall

Day 30: A banner to celebrate your achievement!

When you are done make sure you post your achievements or send me a photo and I will publish the best ones. If you have any tips on how to get re-inspired I would love to hear about them too so please feel free to leave a comment. Do you do anything strange like cleaning the bathroom to get over artists block?

If you have a friend who needs some inspiration, send them the challenge too! If you want to post your work in my Artists Exchange Group on Facebook, join today if you are not already a member here  and use the hashtag #30DayChallenge

ABOUT M.A

M.A Taylor is a UK artist who specialises in landscapes, abstracts, and art for use in TV and film
 
Marks art portfolio is available here  where you can also buy his work on everything from museum quality stretched canvas to coffee mugs and mobile phone cases, and many other products. His work is also available in more than 150 of the largest brick and mortar art stores across the USA and Canada including Deck the Walls, The Great Frame Up, and Framing and Art Centre.

Mark spends as much time with the family as he can, or at least until they get bored with him and then he will go out and fly his drones. He has spent a considerable time over the years perfecting latte art, but it usually turns out to be unrecognisable. He just can't seem to get the milk pouring bit  right. 

ark of Hope by Mark TaylorArk of Hope and Ark of Hope The Rainbow can be purchased on everything from museum quality stretched canvas to home decor, clothing, and phone cases by clicking this link which will open in a new window

ark of Hope The Rainbow by Mark Taylor 

Comments

Popular posts